A shimmering Sunday night set from Phosphorescent at Union Transfer
It’s quite the contrast when, on a grey, snowy Sunday evening, a golden man with a golden guitar and a golden voice takes the stage (outfitted with touches of gold, of course) to play some of his sunny musical gold.
This man, no wonder, is Mathew Houck, or Phosphorescent (dictionary definition: emitting light without appreciable heat), as you may know him. Despite having broken his guitar just before the show, Houck radiated his way onstage, “Sun, Arise! (An Invocation, An Introduction)” slithering its way between the numerous candles scattered about before anyone picked up any actual instruments. “I’m going for a balance between Buddy Holly and Green Day;” joked Houck, “It’s the first thing they teach you in guitar school.” It seemed to me that Phosphorescent is less the intersection of a rock and roll pioneer and punk rock poster boys, but bare bones alt-country music cloaked in water color ambiance and candle smoke warmth.
The evening prominently featured tracks from Phosphorescent’s 2013 release, Muchacho, including a distilled “The Quotidien Beasts” and an earnest solo rendition of “Muchacho’s Tune.” (Note: the lyrics “I’ve been fucked up, and I’ve been a fool” rather ironically harkened back to an earlier remark, “I’m a broken man with a broken guitar”, regarding his instrument mishap, a nice emotional touch to make the night just that much warmer). Of course, the back-to-back double threat that is “Song for Zula” followed by “Ride On / Right On” were surefire crowd pleasers.
As the wicks of those candles burned on, Houck’s band left the stage, allowing him to show off some of those denuded folk/country songs that lay at the heart of his music. I’m a sucker for “Can I Sleep In Your Arms”, Houck’s cover of Willie Nelson’s cover of Hank Cochran’s country classic, but his extended vocal loop pedal version of “Wolves” was, at the very least, unique, and rocked the crowd into a fluorescent trance.
Joining Phosphorescent were New York alt-rockers Caveman, who took a little while to get the crowd engaged, but once their music finally percolated, fans seemed invested in their percussive, syncopated style. Frontman Matthew Iwanusa did a good job of keeping a shivering audience attentive, though I’ll admit that some of his ventures into more comedic banter were less than amazing.
Muchacho is much more than a very critically venerated record by a guy who writes great songs; Houck and company have clearly mastered the substantiation of their latest album, and Phosphorescent’s live music has a lot more dimension than you get with, say, candles and incense (though candles and incense certainly had their role).
It’s music that shimmers with a golden gleam and wraps you in so much warmth that you practically forget just how cold it is outside.